After a turbulent week which saw the rise and fall of the European Super League dominate headlines, it’s refreshing to be writing about something more light-hearted!
The Premier League this week announced the first two players inducted to its hall of fame: Arsenal and France legend Thierry Henry; and the Premier League’s all-time record goalscorer, Alan Shearer.
It’s hard to dispute those picks. If I was going to pick an all-time Premier League XI, they would no doubt be the first two players on the team sheet. Henry was the player everyone was talking about when I was growing up, which says all you need to know about a player who consistently stood out in a star-studded Arsenal side in the early 2000s.
Despite retiring over 15 years ago, Alan Shearer’s domestic goalscoring exploits remain unmatched to this day, with numerous players threatening – but never quite beating – his record of 260 Premier League goals.
The Premier League have since revealed a list of 23 nominees, from which supporters’ votes will determine the next six players to be inducted.
Having not looked at the criteria for the nominees, my initial reaction was ‘Where is Rooney? Where is Ronaldo? Where is Aguero?!’ Those three would’ve taken half of my votes straight away, but the PL have stated that only players who had retired before June 2020 could be included. Knowing that I can’t pick them, here are my six nominees…
Given the stats-heavy game we know today, it can be easy to forget just how good some players were, simply because they weren’t notching 20-30 goals in consecutive seasons. While pretty much everyone recognises Cantona as being a great of the game, he is often overlooked in comparison to other strikers in the Premier League era.
‘The King’ just had a unique presence on the pitch, an aura which would make defenders fearful of coming up against him which few others have displayed. While his record of 70 goals in 156 Premier League games isn’t quite mind-blowing, the quality of many of his strikes and his ability to win matches on his own more than made up for it.
A key figure in Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ season and prominent figure in the period where Henry made his name, Patrick Vieira was the very definition of the complete midfielder. Combining tenacity, passion and grit with immense quality on the ball, Vieira led his side by example and with personality. He’s a true great of the club and of the league, and someone that epitomises everything Arsenal have been missing.
This is the natural next step after discussing Patrick Vieira! His and Keane’s infamous row in the tunnel at Highbury before United’s 4-2 victory encapsulates a time where the two clubs were at the peak of their powers and at the height of their rivalry.
The leadership qualities I mentioned regarding Vieira are what have become synonymous with Keane when looking back on his career. We think of him as a ‘hard man’, a true leader who would do whatever it takes to win. While this is all true – to which being a serial winner as captain of the club will attest – it almost overlooks his actual footballing ability. He could dictate matches at the highest level against the best players in the world, rarely misplacing a pass and coming up with crucial goals in big matches. His leadership qualities were a massive asset, but you don’t captain a treble-winning side just by shouting and flying into tackles.
Yes, I’ve gone for another midfielder, but given Lampard’s goalscoring record, it’s hard to leave him out. His contribution of 177 league goals played a huge part in propelling Chelsea to the top in the mid 2000s, and his top-level performances across a lengthy career helped cement the club’s place among the elite. Of all the nominees, there are probably a few who you could argue were better players than Lampard, but it’s difficult to look beyond his goals and achievements in the blue shirt, with three Premier League titles to his name.
Like Lampard, John Terry is a name synonymous with Chelsea’s rise to success. The man was simply a rock at the back. His reading of the game was such that he was rarely caught out of position and he was never afraid to put his body on the line when it mattered. Not only did he have great ability himself, he was also a great organiser of the defence, and his leadership qualities saw him captain club and country.
I couldn’t not include a goalkeeper as well! While he may be the only ‘keeper in the list of nominees, I think a vast majority of fans would have him down as the greatest ‘keeper the league has seen. An imperious yet reliable figure in the net, Schmeichel was a mainstay in United’s dominant side throughout the 90s. He was also the first goalkeeper to score in the Premier League during his time at Aston Villa!
Are there any other nominees the Premier League should have included? Who did you pick for your six? Let us know in the comments!